|Through his association with Akshabrahm Gunatitanand Swami, Shivlal was able to cultivate true spiritual insight. Together with his genuine thirst for spiritual progress, he shunned
all the trappings of his material fortune.
"Please make me a sadhu," requested the 10-year-old boy to Acharya Raghuvirji Maharaj. The Acharya was taken aback by the sincerity and spirituality of the boy. A few moments of silence passed. Then he told the boy, "Boy, you are still young and what's more you're an only son. Also, your father is a prominent businessman of the Bhavnagar district, so it is better you stay as a householder and serve God."
"But Acharya Maharaj, I don't want to get married. Please make me a sadhu."
This young boy was none other than Shivlal, the son of Botad-based Bhaga Doshi. Shivlal had the blessings of Aksharbrahm Gunatitanand Swami, Gopalanand Swami and many other distinguished sadhus.
Raised in a wealthy family amidst the convenience of much luxury and comfort, this young boy regularly visited Vartal, Gadhada, Junagadh and other places to attend Satsang functions.
Annually, Gunatitanand Swami would visit Botad on his way from Junagadh to Vartal. These days were a golden occasion for Shivlal. In turn, Shivlal spent one month every year in the company of Gunatitanand Swami at Junagadh to listen to his enlightening spiritual talks, as per the wish of Shriji Maharaj.
Shivlal did not care for his comfort but yearned only for spiritual bliss. He did not care if his usual rich and tasty diet was replaced by just rotlo and adad dal. He did not even care whether or not he got bedding. All he wanted was to remain in the company of Gunatitanand Swami and his sadhus.
Even though he remained a householder, through his contact and association with Gunatitanand Swami, he had attained the state of brahmarup. He was aloof from material attachments and focussed on devotion to God.
Once there was a family occasion, for which many relatives came to Botad. After the occasion, everyone returned to their homes, except Shivlal's sister-in-law. Shivlal's nature was such that he never talked to anyone unless necessary, for he was always engrossed in his devotion and service to God. One day, lost in the thought of God, he sat down to eat. Kansar, a sweet item, was served. To this, ghee was added. Shivlal said, "Enough, enough!" And he looked up to see his sister-in-law. He was surprised and asked, "When did you come here?" Surprised by the question, she disappeared into the kitchen and revealed to the women of the house saying, "I've been here for many days and have served him food daily, yet he asks such a question!" But how could she even begin to appreciate Shivlal's high spiritual state.
A similar incident occurred in public. Shivlal's daily routine took him from home to office to mandir and back home. Even en route he was never distracted by the surroundings. In fact, one old building had been demolished and a new one built in its place. Six months passed. One day as he walked his usual route, he sneezed and looked up and noticed the new building. He asked the people with him, "When was this built?" They laughed in amazement at Shivlal's focussed devotion to God and continued on their way.
Through his association with Gunatitanand Swami, he developed a strong liking for listening to spiritual discourses - in fact it became an addiction for him!
Gadhada is quite near to Botad and so Bhaga Doshi and his family went there frequently for darshan and to sponsor meals for Thakorji and the sadhus. Once, Bhaga Doshi, Shivlal and his uncle, Ada Doshi, were going to Gadhada by cart. On the way, as they passed field after field, Bhaga Doshi and Ada Doshi intently discussed the likely yield of each field, land quality and other issues. Soon they were near Gadhada. Meanwhile, Shivlal had spent the entire journey totally engrossed in the murti of Maharaj. When they could see the flags on the pinnacles of the mandir, Shivlal put away his rosary and asked, "Father, what did you do during this journey?"
"Oh, we just talked about the farms that passed," Bhaga Doshi replied with satisfaction.
"Really, and how much did you earn from your talks?" Shivlal asked politely. Then he continued, "You are a senior and experienced businessman. You know what is profitable and what is not. Throughout our journey I chanted the Swaminarayan mantra while you engaged in empty gossip. So you can judge who has made a profit and who has made a loss!"
Bhaga Doshi had experienced his son's spiritual outlook on many occasions. He realised his mistake and resolved to change.
Whenever Shivlal went for darshan, he never went empty-handed. He would always have something to offer. In those days, as there were no printing presses, a scribe would write a book for a fee of around 60 rupees. Shivlal had paid for many copies of the Vachanamrut and books of devotional songs to be written in this way and then gave them to the sadhus for their use.
Shivlal had also financed the making of the murti of Harikrishna Maharaj in Gadhada. Using the sanctified utensils used by Shriji Maharaj Himself, the metal was melted and molded to form this murti. Raghuvirji Maharaj then came to perform the idol-installation ceremony. This occasion was celebrated on a grand scale and was financed by Shivlal. In addition to his financial contribution, he served physically - day and night - to please Gunatitanand Swami. He spent many months in Gadhada prior to this occasion to help ensure its success.
Everyone knew that Shivlal was a staunch and sincere devotee of Gunatitanand Swami and that he firmly believed Swami to be the incarnation of Aksharbrahm. Some sadhus did not like this and so would speak to belittle Swami and deflect Shivlal from his faith.
But nothing would deter Shivlal. So, as soon as the idol-installation celebrations were over, Shivlal went to Junagadh for the darshan of Gunatitanand Swami.
Swami was determined to remove even the tiniest speck of fault from Shivlal's heart. He said, "Shivlal, you feel in your mind that because you paid for the idol-installation in Gadhada and Raghuvirji Maharaj's reception in Bhavnagar, you have done a great thing. But when I look at your jiva, I see that only half of your satsang remains!"
Shivlal immediately agreed saying, "Yes, Maharaj..." Gunatitanand Swami saw Shivlal's keen desire to correct his shortcomings and said, "Shivlal, if you listen continuously to spiritual discourses for two months then your jiva will regain its previous state of spiritual attachment to God."
This incident reveals the care that Gunatitanand Swami had for Shivlal's spiritual well-being.
Once, Bhai Atmanand Swami was delivering a discourse on how the observance of niyams can earn the blessings of Shriji Maharaj. The whole assembly was listening attentively and silently. Shivlal was also in the assembly. But due to illness he had a bitter taste in his mouth, which he attempted to neutralise by sucking a few pieces of betel nut (sopari). Suddenly a cracking noise came from Shivlal's mouth. As it resounded through the silent atmosphere, Bhai Atmanand Swami commented, "Who is forsaking the taste of such divine spiritual nectar in the form of these discourses and chewing bone?"
Immediately Shivlal got up, went outside and washed his mouth clean. He resolved never to take sopari in his life again. He was constantly aware of opportunities to progress spiritually.
One afternoon, Gunatitanand Swami was resting, so finding a little free time, Shivlal went to the bazaar of Junagadh. He bought and sold some gold and made a handsome profit of 150 rupees. By the time he returned to the mandir, Swami had already started his discourse. Seeing that Shivlal was late, he asked why. Shivlal told Swami, "Today, I've earned 150 rupees to sponsor Thakorji's thal tomorrow." But Swami was not impressed. He asked, "Shivlal, you bought and sold some gold. But have you ever thought of buying and selling heaps of dust?"
"No," replied Shivlal.
"To my mind, everything is dust compared to the murti of Maharaj. By forsaking these sermons about God, what profit have you gained?"
Shivlal realised that Swami is pleased only if one's time and talents are used in furthering one's spiritual progress rather than in prospering materially. So he resolved to earn Swami's blessings in this way.
One day, Shivlal was at home meditating. At that time somebody spilt some ghee while going downstairs. The ghee spread down the stairs and there was commotion in the house. Hearing the noise, Bhaga Doshi came running. He saw the mess and the wasted ghee and was upset. He went up to Shivlal who was still meditating and called out to him, "Shiva, Oh Shiva! Just look at this mess. This ghee has been spilt and wasted."
Shivlal opened his eyes and commented, "Father, there's no need to be upset about it. Even after eating the ghee, it would ultimately be wasted! At least this way, the wooden stairs will be greased and strengthened!"
Together with this deep spiritual understanding, Shivlal excelled in meditation. He spent upto 2½ hours daily meditating and Maharaj Himself would appear personally in Shivlal's puja to accept his devotion. Even senior sadhus would sit during Shivlal's puja so they could also have the darshan of Shriji Maharaj.
Once, Shivlal was performing puja with a number of sadhus seated around him enjoying the darshan of Maharaj. Just then, somebody disturbed Shivlal and asked him a question relating to his business. Shivlal's concentration was broken and so Maharaj disappeared from view. As they no longer saw Maharaj, Ramanujanand Swami and the others got up to leave. Shivlal asked why they were leaving. The sadhus replied, "Shivlal, we come only for the darshan of Maharaj. But today your concentration has been disturbed and so Maharaj's darshan is no longer possible. That's why we're leaving."
Hearing this, Shivlal resolved to perfect his concentration during meditation.
Seeing Shivlal's spiritual progress, Bhaga Doshi was also inspired to meditate like him. So he asked Shivlal to explain the techniques of meditation. Shivlal explained, "When I sit to meditate I visualise that my 9-lakh rupee fortune, our businesses, our home, relatives have been burnt to ash! On this pile of ash I sit and meditate."
Bhaga Doshi was shocked at this thought. Even the mere thought of burning these perishable things was too much for him to take. He told Shivlal, "You continue with your meditation. I don't want to learn it!"
By the grace of Gunatitanand Swami, Shivlal had developed the understanding that everything, except God and His holy Sadhu is perishable and so it is of no profit to be attached to material things. Thus, with this understanding he was able to focus on the murti of Maharaj.
Shivlal was married, but at a young age he became a widower. When Raghuvirji Maharaj told Shivlal to re-marry, he replied, "Maharaj, it is more appropriate for you to marry since you have no sons to inherit your position as Acharya."
Seeing Shivlal's firmness, Raghuvirji Maharaj did not press him further. Gunatitanand Swami also told Shivlal's father, "Don't force Shivlal to re-marry. Be patient for a few months. Shriji Maharaj will take care of everything."
And indeed, it was the will of Maharaj that prevailed.
Shivlal was serving the 116-year-old Bhai Atmanand Swami. He served him with appropriate food compatible with his ailing health. He looked after his medical needs and bought whatever medicines were necessary. Day and night Shivlal served him. Bhai Atmanand Swami was pleased by Shivlal's service and offered him, "Shivlal, ask for anything you want. I will grant it."
Shivlal seized this opportunity, "Swami, when you go to Akshardham, take me with you!" Swami was shocked to hear this. But he was well aware of Shivlal's high spiritual state. So he agreed, saying, "O.K. Maharaj will fulfill your wish."
Some days later, towards the end of the month of Jeth in Vikram Samvat year 1916 (1860ce), Bhai Atmanand Swami passed away and entered Akshardham.
The very next day, Shivlal fell ill. He stayed at the Swaminarayan mandir in Botad for seven days. He forgot all about his family and business and engaged himself in devotion to Maharaj. On the eighth day, he spoke his last words, "Maharaj has come to fetch me. I'm going to Akshardham. Jai Swaminarayan to you all."
Even today, Shivlal's life of perfect devotion and his elevated spiritual understanding are inspiring to all.